JOHOR BARU: When Mr Soo Seng Yong visited his daughter at Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA) on Monday evening (Oct 24), he left feeling upbeat.
Mrs Choo Lin Fong, 36, was recovering well from a thyroid problem that had left her with breathing difficulties over the last 10 days. Little did Mr Soo know that on Tuesday, he would have the heartbreaking task of identifying his daughter's lifeless body at the hospital mortuary.
People wait to be called to identify the bodies of their loved ones. (Photo: Amir Yusof)
Mrs Choo was among six patients who died in a fire which engulfed the Intensive Care Unit at HSA on Tuesday morning. The fire is believed to have started at a treatment room on the second floor of the hospital. Only one patient and three hospital staff in the ICU survived.
"When I last saw her, she was excited to be leaving the ICU the next day," Mr Soo told Channel NewsAsia.
"She was going to another ward in a few hours. I still can't believe she's gone," said the 66-year-old, who lives in Taman Nusa Indah, Johor Baru.
"Everything that has happened over the last few hours has been a blur. I can't even remember who called to tell me the news."
While he was at the mortuary waiting area, Mr Soo was given cash donations from various welfare groups. He thanked them and allowed pictures to be taken, but all he was thinking about was his daughter.
"I just want to take her home," he said.
Families of those killed waited under a tented area beside the mortuary building while officials called them up one at a time to identify the bodies of their loved ones. When offered food and drink by government volunteers, many refused, including Mrs Choo's aunt, who declined to be named.
The woman, who said she had taken care of Mrs Choo since she was three, was in tears. "Today it rains like it hasn't for months. It rains like my tears," she said.
Another person killed in the fire was Neeramala Devi Chandran, who was admitted on Monday night suffering from fits.
Ms Neeramala, an operator at a car parts company in Woodlands, had had a bout of fits at her home in Tampoi, Johor Baru, before she was taken to HSA.
Friends and relatives wait outside the mortuary to identify the bodies of their loved ones. (Photo: Amir Yusof)
Her cousin and colleague, Mahalechumy Ravi, left work early on Tuesday afternoon with eight of her other colleagues when they heard the news.
"I could not believe it when I heard she's dead. I have been calling her phone, again and again. There's no answer but I am not going to stop until I see her with my own eyes," said Ms Mahalechumy, who also lives in Tampoi with Ms Neeramala.
As a police van drove up into the mortuary, she rushed to it, hoping that Ms Neeramala's body was inside.
She said she regarded Ms Neeramala as her sister, and would accompany her body back to her hometown in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan.
"All I keep imagining now is her laughter. She was a very funny person, and this was the first time she suffered fits in her life. It's fate," said Ms Mahalechumy.
After post-mortem procedures, the HSA mortuary released the bodies of those killed to their families on Tuesday night.
Malaysia's Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said that it would provide a free counselling service to the victims' next-of-kin as well as other patients involved in the incident.
Its minister Rohani Abdul Karim told reporters that "so far, four counselling experts from the welfare department have been assigned to provide the service to the victims' next-of-kin and the patients who survived".
Speaking outside the hospital mortuary, she added that various government agencies, non-governmental organisations and companies had offered welfare assistance to the victims' relatives and other affected patients.